Tips for new trustees be more than political

GIA showed up at Islands Trust’s new council meeting in Victoria on December 5, 2014 to welcome and share a bit of old and new-fashioned wisdom with trustees at the start of their 4-year term.

I am here for the Gulf Islands Alliance. Call us GIA. On your third day — suffering information overload? — you already have enough to think about. So we’re not here to complain or ask for anything. We just want to congratulate you on your election and celebrate with you the 40th anniversary of the Trust and the amazing opportunity you have to do good things over the next four years.
When you stack up the Gulf Islands’ beauty, serenity, and security against a world festering in wars and other turmoil, we surely live in a most remarkable place.

And GIA, a non-profit, grassroots group, wants to help keep it that way. For nine years we’ve been vocal — with letters, deputations, islands tours and public gatherings — about growth, tourism, marine and forestry issues, bylaw enforcement, and other Trust governance policies and practices. Next year we plan to offer ideas for your strategic plan, such ideas on ways to reconcile with First Nations claims and cope with industrial waste, acidification and rising sea levels of the Salish Sea.

GIA lives to support the Trust Act’s goal. A few years ago we commissioned a legal opinion from a prominent environmental lawyer on the meaning and force of the Act. He concluded its purpose, to protect the islands’ natural environment, above all other considerations, is strong and has proven to be enforceable in court.

After an election campaign focusing on ways to best serve your constituents, new trustees now may be feeling overwhelmed by the bigger picture. From being a politician in pursuit of votes, here you learn you’re truly a trustee, with a duty of care for a special place, on behalf of your island residents and all BC people. Political thinking rarely goes beyond the next election. But trustees must consider this generation, and even the generations that follow. Native wisdom calls for us to be good ancestors. Given that life is fleeting, we’re more like visitors or tenants than owners on this earth. We shouldn’t be trashing the place. GIA sees you as a kind of strata council, held to the highest standard because this is luxury accommodation.

GIA has a few on-the-job tips for you. (We confess to shamelessly borrowing a few apt clichés):

1. This is your show. You represent your islands. You were elected. People like us, your constituents, your staff and other bureaucrats can plead and instruct, but you make decisions. Make sure they are yours. You may screw up now and again. When you run after a rainbow you sometimes get wet.

2. The best way to stay dry is to dig like a dog for the bone of truth, no matter how deep it’s buried. The road to good decisions is paved with facts. Measure ideas on their merit, not popularity. Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground.

3. Listen well. Larry King said he never learned a damned thing when he was talking.

4. (This is especially for your chair and executive committee.) Know what business you’re in. Don’t come to work not sure if you’re making widgets or what-nots. Keep the Trust Act and Policy Statement at your bedside. You’re protecting one of the most beautiful places on earth. You’re captain of ship; it can’t move forward if it’s going sideways. Keep bureaucrats and politicians at arms length. Public service isn’t about private gain. Be real. Better to be the lonely rider who dismounts from his dying horse than the dashing officer who promotes his dead horse to a supervisory position.

5. Speak up — shout — for the Trust. You have a great story and great idea to talk about. It’s no accident the Trust is misunderstood and most criticized in places especially where it lacks a champion. Make the most of your role as advocate to other levels of government. Your past chair Sheila was a strong Trust advocate, about ferries and oil tankers, to name two. The new Trust should do even more.

To conclude: The media of all sorts is a-buzz with alarming research and opinions about mankind using up natural resources and polluting the earth faster than can be sustained. One response has been a wave of constitutional changes in about 150 countries guaranteeing the right of citizens to live in a healthy environment. Many have resulted in significant improvements of environmental care. The Suzuki Foundation and the NDP want to enshrine this right in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. With a mandate and practices that are a model for the world, Islands Trust should consider joining Vancouver, Richmond and other local governments in endorsing this initiative.

But we don’t want that confused — albeit it’s related — with GIA’s ongoing plea to Trust Council to adopt the Public Trust Doctrine into your Policy Statement. Simply, the doctrine says every person has the right to breathe fresh, unpolluted air. It’s not about values or amenities, it’s about a necessity.

Rarely used in Canadian courts, the Public Trust Doctrine is more relevant than ever, as a response to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, because it says:

— air and water and other life-sustaining provisions of nature belong equally to all of us and shall not be damaged or removed for any reason. Beyond any discretionary power of governments to remove, this is an inalienable human right.

— and two, all publicly elected officials and their government agencies are trustees of these precious necessities and are duty bound to preserve and protect them. As administrators of the public trust, they don’t have the power to abdicate their role as trustee in favour of private parties.

How does this apply to you? Unchecked, climate change is the biggest threat to the Trust’s preserve and protect mandate. It could put you out of a job. Confronting climate change is both a local issue and global issue. Your voice counts. Don’t wait for the other guy; he or she may be waiting for you to act first. And you have loads of support — an energized, enlightened population that will be delighted and motivated by your example.

By the way, 2014 is the hottest year on record.

(Delivered by Dave Steen, GIA Chair)


Footnote: In deputations and letters to Islands Trust over the past two years, GIA has pressed Council to amend its Policy Statement to embrace the Public Trust Doctrine (See GIA’s submissions in our ‘older news’ pages.) We are inspired by lawyer Mary Christina Wood whose work and book Nature’s Trust have aided the launch of numerous lawsuits, on behalf of children, against US states and the federal government for failing to take necessary measures needed to halt catastrophic climate change. She was interviewed by Bill Moyers on PBS TV in early January, 2015. Her message and mission herald an exciting change in combating climate change and saving democracy.